Sunday, January 26, 2020

An anecdote about America's smartest president

As we head into a week of the Trumpublican defense of their cult leader, it’s worth pausing to appreciate a little humor. I thought this one, from Paula Lajoie on Facebook, is worth sharing.

Just what I needed..

"✈️An airplane was about to crash. There were 4 passengers on board, but only 3 parachutes.

The 1st passenger said, “I am Kanye West, I am the best rapper on the planet. My millions of fans need me, and I can’t afford to die.” So he took the 1st pack and left the plane.

The 2nd passenger, Donald Trump, said, "I am the smartest and the best President in history. I am a stable-Genius and I have the best words. I am The Chosen One. I could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue, grab chicks by the pussy, praise Putin, hush-pay a porn star after the birth of my 5th child by my 3rd wife…and not lose fans. I can ask other nations to meddle in our elections. I could tell them Mexico will pay for anything. They believe everything i say. My fans are the drop-outs and CDF Students. I love the under-educated!”

He points at the two remaining passengers and says “You’re a Disgrace!” He then grabbed the 2nd pack and jumped out of the plane.

The 3rd passenger (the Dalai Lama) said to the 4th passenger (a 10 year old schoolboy) “My son, I am old and don’t have many years left, you have more years ahead so I will sacrifice my life and let you have the last parachute.”

The little boy said, "That’s okay, Your Holiness, there’s a parachute left for you…America’s smartest President took my schoolbag.”

Trump and donors caught talking about Ukraine and Ambassador Yovanovitch - on tape.

The betting odds are that the Senate Republicans will vote to acquit Trump. But no matter what they do, the evidence will keep rolling in on Trump’s malfeasance and that will stain the reputations of those senators by showing how they lied when signing their oath as impartial jurors. Here are excerpts from the most recent example from the NY Times. (If you already got this, sorry. I’m getting caught up after my vacation out of country.)

Tape Made Public of Trump Discussing Ukraine With Donors. The recording from a dinner in 2018 showed that the president spent an hour with two key players in the Ukraine pressure campaign. He has repeatedly said he does not know them.

For more than an hour one evening in 2018, President Trump sat around a dinner table in a private suite in his Washington hotel with a group of donors, including two men at the center of the impeachment inquiry, talking about golf, trade, politics — and removing the United States ambassador to Ukraine.

The conversation, captured on a recording made public Saturday, contradicted Mr. Trump’s repeated statements that he does not know the two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who went on to work with the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to carry out a pressure campaign on Ukraine.

The recording — a video shot on Mr. Fruman’s phone during the dinner in April 2018 — largely confirmed Mr. Parnas’s account of having raised with Mr. Trump criticisms of the ambassador to Kyiv at the time, Marie L. Yovanovitch, and the president’s immediate order that Ms. Yovanovitch should be removed from the post.

“Get rid of her,” Mr. Trump can be heard responding.

The recording was made public by Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, hours after the president’s lawyers began presenting their defense in the impeachment trial and as Democrats looked for leverage to persuade Republicans to support their calls to expand the inquiry by introducing additional evidence and calling new witnesses.

For most of the recording, the camera is pointed at the ceiling but the audio is clear. Early in the recording, Mr. Trump can be seen as he enters the private room at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on April 30, 2018.

The effort to oust [former ambassador to Ukraine] Ms. Yovanovitch would later become directly linked to the broader pressure campaign on Ukraine waged by Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman. Evidence provided to House investigators showed that Mr. Parnas was in regular contact last year with Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, who also wanted Ms. Yovanovitch replaced, and seemed to be willing to trade investigations of Mr. Biden for her removal and other signs of support from the Trump administration.

By the time of the dinner with Mr. Trump, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman already saw Ms. Yovanovitch as an impediment to their efforts to get into the energy business in Ukraine.

In the full recording released on Saturday, Mr. Parnas can be heard telling Mr. Trump that he and Mr. Fruman “are in the process of purchasing an energy company in Ukraine right now.”

Mr. Parnas continued by saying that “the biggest problem is corruption there,” and later added Ms. Yovanovitch, though not by name, to a list of issues Mr. Trump should address in Ukraine.

“The biggest problem there, I think, where we, where you, need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador,” he said. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s going to get impeached, just wait.’”

The remark prompted laughter in the room.

Mr. Trump asked for the ambassador’s name. Mr. Fruman said, “I don’t remember.” Mr. Trump, sounding stern, then said: “Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”

Those comments were directed at one of Mr. Trump’s aides who was in the room at the time, Mr. Parnas has previously said. There was some additional laughter in the room at Mr. Trump’s remarks.

Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman gained access to the dinner, which was organized by a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, by pledging to donate $1 million to the group.

The month after the event, they donated $325,000 to the group through a company they had recently formed to pursue energy deals called Global Energy Producers.

In the rest of the recording attendees, Trump donors, were recorded jockeying for assistance in promoting their various businesses.

And, BTW, Parnas and Fruman are the two guys who Trump claims not to know who were in cahoots with “Rudy” in his campaign to dirty presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Senate supporters of Trump, and the Republican impeachment managers, would do well to recall Rick Wilson’s assertion that “everything that Trump touches dies.”

Saturday, January 18, 2020

GOPlin senators cannot handle this truth - their leader is a crook

Even if you don’t subscribe to Blog for Arizona, you probably know about this:

Earlier today, as already reported by AZ Blue Meanie and virtually every other political outlet, Senator McSally, currently behind Captain Mark Kelly in recent polls, became the symbol of the difficulties all Republican Senators face when confronted with reality by non-Fox or Alt-Right commentators.

In the hall of the Senate, she called CNN Journalist Manu Raju “a liberal hack” twice when he asked whether new evidence should be considered at the Senate Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump.

That prompted B4AZ contributor David Gordon to remind us of Jack Nicholson’s scene from _A Few Good Men_: Martha McSally can not Handle the Truth.

What you may not be aware of is McSally’s history of ducking and dodging the press.

Commenting on the latest McSally incident, Brad Banium of the Arizona Democratic Party released a statement which recounted McSally’s recent conduct, reading in part:

“In December, the Associated Press reported on McSally definitively ruling out any pretense of being an “impartial” juror. According to the report, McSally:

Said House Democrats committed “the only abuse of power that we’ve seen going on here”

“Echo[ed]” Mitch McConnell’s pledge on “working closely with the White House”; and admitted Republicans are opposing the “minefield” of witnesses testimony from “some people” because we don’t know how that’s going to go.”

“For months, McSally has refused to be forthright with Arizonans when it comes to getting to the facts of the case:”

“McSally infamously “literally went around the Capitol, around parked cars, everything, to avoid cameras” and reporter questions about the appropriateness of Trump’s abuses of power.”

“This fall, McSally refused to rule out accepting foreign help in her own election — and then ran away from Arizona reporters.”

“It’s clear that Martha McSally’s only goal is to protect her party leaders and her personal political future. She has no interest in hearing the facts, uncovering the truth, and being an independent representative for Arizonans.”

Gordon concludes:

Arizona and the Nation need Senators who can handle the truth and put country over cult (party).

Martha McSally and Susan Collins, along with Political Prince of Darkness-Grim Reaper- Enemy of the People-Moscow Mitch, backstabbing Lindsey, and the other willing accessories in the Former Party of Lincoln have proven they are not what the country needs for public servants.

Amen to that.

Posted by Scriber from San Miguel de Allende - where I thought to escape this sh!t

Sunday, January 12, 2020

How American socioeconomic policies create 'deaths of despair'

At the NY Times Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn ask Who Killed the Knapp Family? It’s an important piece of research on how Across America, working-class people — including many of our friends — are dying of despair. And we’re still blaming the wrong people. (With thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

So who are the right people to carry the blame? Not the Knapps. Poverty triggered by job loss is a more accurate answer. As is the failure - complete, abject, crappy failure - of our social and economic policies.

Here is just a small part of the case they make.

We Americans are locked in political combat and focused on President Trump, but there is a cancer gnawing at the nation that predates Trump and is larger than him. Suicides are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.

We have deep structural problems that have been a half century in the making, under both political parties, and that are often transmitted from generation to generation. Only in America has life expectancy now fallen three years in a row, for the first time in a century, because of “deaths of despair.”

The meaningfulness of the working-class life seems to have evaporated,” Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, told us. “The economy just seems to have stopped delivering for these people.” Deaton and the economist Anne Case, who is also his wife, coined the term “deaths of despair” to describe the surge of mortality from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The kids on the No. 6 bus rode into a cataclysm as working-class communities disintegrated across America because of lost jobs, broken families, gloom — and failed policies. The suffering was invisible to affluent Americans, but the consequences are now evident to all: The survivors mostly voted for Trump, some in hopes that he would rescue them, but under him the number of children without health insurance has risen by more than 400,000.

The stock market is near record highs, but working-class Americans (often defined as those without college degrees) continue to struggle. If you’re only a high school graduate, or worse, a dropout, work no longer pays. If the federal minimum wage in 1968 had kept up with inflation and productivity, it would now be $22 an hour. Instead, it’s $7.25.

It would be easy but too simplistic to blame just automation and lost jobs: The problems are also rooted in disastrous policy choices over 50 years. The United States wrested power from labor and gave it to business, and it suppressed wages and cut taxes rather than invest in human capital, as our peer countries did. As other countries embraced universal health care, we did not; several counties in the United States have life expectancies shorter than those in Cambodia or Bangladesh.

Americans also bought into a misconceived “personal responsibility” narrative that blamed people for being poor. It’s true, of course, that personal responsibility matters: People we spoke to often acknowledged engaging in self-destructive behaviors. But when you can predict wretched outcomes based on the ZIP code where a child is born, the problem is not bad choices the infant is making. If we’re going to obsess about personal responsibility, let’s also have a conversation about social responsibility.

Why did deaths of despair claim Farlan, Zealan, Nathan, Rogena and so many others? We see three important factors.

First, well-paying jobs disappeared, partly because of technology and globalization but also because of political pressure on unions and a general redistribution of power toward the wealthy and corporations.

Second, there was an explosion of drugs — oxycodone, meth, heroin, crack cocaine and fentanyl — aggravated by the reckless marketing of prescription painkillers by pharmaceutical companies.

Third, the war on drugs sent fathers and mothers to jail, shattering families.

But there are solutions revealed by Kristof and WuDunn.

Yet it’s not hopeless. America is polarized with ferocious arguments about social issues, but we should be able to agree on what doesn’t work: neglect and underinvestment in children. Here’s what does work.

Job training and retraining give people dignity as well as an economic lifeline. Such jobs programs are common in other countries.

For instance, autoworkers were laid off during the 2008–9 economic crisis both in Detroit and across the Canadian border in nearby Windsor, Ontario. As the scholar Victor Tan Chen has showed, the two countries responded differently. The United States focused on money, providing extended unemployment benefits. Canada emphasized job retraining, rapidly steering workers into new jobs in fields like health care, and Canadian workers also did not have to worry about losing health insurance.

Canada’s approach succeeded. The focus on job placement meant that Canadian workers were ushered more quickly back into workaday society and thus today seem less entangled in drugs and family breakdown.

So do check out the Times essay for more on what we as a society might do to make sure that we don’t kill more Knapp families.

Rick Wilson on how to dump Trump.

Scriber is on vacation for the next couple of weeks so posts will be erratic - more so than usual ;)

I’ll leave you with some things to ponder about how to dump Trump.

The Guardian has an interesting story on How to dump Trump: Rick Wilson on Running Against the Devil. He was a Republican ad man but now he’s a bestselling author out to bring down a president. He says Democrats must listen. Wilson should know. He’s been there and done that.

You might not like what Wilson opines about the Dems in the election, but you should think about it anyway. Keep in mind that Wilson thinks there are scumbags and they are GOPlins running with the devil. Here’s a sample.

It’s true you don’t get much policy detail at a Biden rally, but you do see plenty of slightly hokey appeals to the better angels of America’s nature.

“There’s nothing in Joe Biden that scans as evil or dark or weird or out of touch,” Wilson says. “He can be a little goofy but that’s not bad, not the worst thing in the world right now.

“I think neither Warren nor Sanders and certainly not Pete Buttigieg have ever had a breakthrough with African American voters sufficient to eliminate Biden’s advantage. And also, Biden’s got the secret weapon.

“If Barack Obama is free to get out there and do the campaigning that only he can do in American political life, I think that would be a meaningful lift for the Democrats.”

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Iran admits unintentionally shooting down the Ukraine plane

The NY Times reported that Iran Says It Unintentionally Shot Down Ukrainian Airliner. “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” President Hassan Rouhani said, as Iran reversed its claims that mechanical failure was to blame.

Here are essential excerpts.

Iran’s military announced early Saturday that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming human error because of what it called the plane’s sharp, unexpected turn toward a sensitive military base.

International pressure had been building on Iran to take responsibility. American and allied intelligence assessments had already concluded that Iranian missiles brought down the plane, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, most likely by accident, amid the heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.

In Iran, a debate over how much blame the government bears threatened to destroy the national solidarity that followed the country’s conflict with the United States. Many Iranians said that their anger over the lack of accountability at the highest levels of government had quickly returned.

On social media, Iranians began expressing anger toward the military soon after the announcement, many of them using the term “harshest revenge,” which officials had repeatedly promised in the wake of the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a powerful Revolutionary Guards commander, last week.

“They were supposed to take their harsh revenge against America, not the people,” wrote Mojtaba Fathi, a journalist.

The military said it would undertake “major reform in operations of all armed forces” to make sure that such an error never happened again. It said Revolutionary Guards officials had been ordered to appear on state media and give the public a full explanation.

The Iranians asked the National Transportation Safety Board to help with the investigation, and the State Department granted waivers to allow the American agency to help. …

Boeing's 737 Max - an airplane 'designed by clowns'

Here’s a real gem from the NY Times Friday night (email) briefing - with a couple of comments. My subtitle: Boeing led by well-paid monkeys.

Dennis Muilenberg, who ran Boeing during two deadly crashes, will leave the company with $62.2 million in stock and pension awards.

Another way of looking at it is that Muilenberg got paid $179,768.79 for each of the 346 lives lost when Boeing let the 737 Max keep flying.

Mr. Muilenburg will not receive any additional severance or separation payments in connection with his departure, and Boeing said he had forfeited stock units worth some $14.6 million.

Well - ain’t that a kick in the head.

Boeing’s new chief, David Calhoun, will receive a $7 million bonus if he is able to get the 737 Max safely flying again.

The company’s announcement comes a day after hundreds of pages of internal documents showed how Boeing employees mocked the Federal Aviation Administration and bragged about getting it to approve the 737 Max with little new training for pilots.

Here’s more from the Times report on who knew what about the doomed 737 Max.

The company expressed regret at the embarrassing communications it sent to investigators on Thursday, which included a comment that “this airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys.”

The employees appear to discuss instances in which the company concealed such problems from the F.A.A. during the regulator’s certification of the simulators, which were used in the development of the Max, as well as in training for pilots who had not previously flown a 737.

“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee said to a colleague in another exchange from 2018, before the first crash. “No,” the colleague responded.

I trust you see my reasoning when I say that Boeing is in a Catch–22. To attract air travelers it needs to establish a safety record. But the only way it can do that, credibly at least, is to have those travelers already flying the 737 Max without any more accidents. Given the problems and culture at Boeing, how are they going to break out of that catch?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Latest on Ukraine plan crash - likely Iranian missile hit, 'a horrible, horrible mistake'

That’s how Chris Hayes characterized it on All in last night. I begin with a thought experiment.

Imagine being in control of an anti-aircraft battery on the very night that your country loosed a barrage of missiles at the “great Satan.” You have every reason to expect retaliation in the form of a bombing campaign. And here is a suspect blip on your radar screen …

Today: That’s one theory bruited about in the media. Another is in the form of denial by the Iranians. Iran: Trust Us, We Didn’t Shoot Down Ukrainian Passenger Jet reports the Daily Beast.

But complicating this sad affair is the lack of security at the crash site. Also reported by The Daily Beast, Scavengers Are Taking Evidence From the Iran Plane Crash Site, CBS Reports.

Yesterday: The story is not yet ended but here is more of what is emerging from the investigation.

Iranian Missile Blew Passenger Jet Out of the Sky, U.S. Suspects reported by Spencer Ackerman, Adam Rawnsley, Erin Banco, and Betsy Swan at The Daily Beast. The Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran the night of the missile attacks on bases in Iraq appears to have been shot by the Iranians with a Russian-made anti-aircraft system.

In the hours since the PS752 crash, a number of videos purporting to show the flight in its final moments have surfaced on social media. Two videos, verified as likely authentic by The New York Times visual investigations team appear to show the impact of the aircraft on the ground in a suburb of Tehran.

On Thursday, a new video surfaced on Twitter and Telegram purporting to show a flying object streak through the night sky and hitting an aircraft shortly before a loud explosion can be heard. It’s unclear yet whether the footage depicts the final moments of PS752 but investigators at Bellingcat have determined that the footage was filmed in Western Parand, near where the flight crashed, and shows the known trajectory of the flight before it crashed.

Video Shows Ukrainian Plane Being Hit Over Iran (reported by By Christiaan Triebert, Malachy Browne, Sarah Kerr and Ainara Tiefenthäler. The New York Times has obtained video of the moment a Ukrainian airliner was hit minutes after takeoff from Tehran.

Video verified by The New York Times appears to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane above Parand, near Tehran’s airport, the area where a Ukrainian airliner stopped transmitting its signal before it crashed on Wednesday.

A small explosion occurred when a missile hit the plane, but the plane did not explode, the video showed. The jet continued flying for several minutes and turned back toward the airport, The Times has determined. The plane flew toward the airport ablaze before it exploded and crashed quickly, other videos verified by The Times showed.

Bestowing unlimited war-making powers, Senate Republicans anoint Donald Trump as King

Functionally that is exactly what is going on. Consider this quote from Lindsey Graham.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) is now dismissing concerns about the need for Congress to reassert its warmaking authority as “emboldening the enemy.”

Apparently there is nothing too bizarre for the Trump loyalists (aka royalists). Consider what happened in a congressional briefing Wednesday by Team Trump.

GOP senator who erupted over Iran briefing shares awful new details about the Trump administration’s willingness to wage war without Congressional consent. So reports Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.

If President Trump made the decision to assassinate the supreme leader of Iran, would he need to come to Congress to get authorization for it?

The Trump administration won’t say.

That remarkable claim is now being made by a Republican senator — Mike Lee of Utah. He offered it in a new interview with NPR, in which he shared fresh details about why he erupted in anger on Wednesday over the briefing Congress received from the administration on Iran.

As you know, Lee’s comments went viral Wednesday after he ripped into the briefing given to lawmakers about Trump’s decision to assassinate Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Lee, echoing the complaints of many Democrats, blasted the briefing on the intelligence behind the assassination as the “worst” he’d ever seen. He also fumed that officials refused to acknowledge any “hypothetical” situations in which they would come to Congress for authorization for future military hostilities against Iran.

Now, in the interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin, Lee has gone into more alarming detail. Lee reiterated that officials “were unable or unwilling to identify any point” at which they’d come to Congress for authorization for the use of military force. Then this exchange happened:

MARTIN: What kind of hypotheticals were you putting to them in hopes of understanding when the administration sees a need for Congressional authority?

LEE: As I recall, one of my colleagues asked a hypothetical involving the Supreme Leader of Iran: If at that point, the United States government decided that it wanted to undertake a strike against him personally, recognizing that he would be a threat to the United States, would that require authorization for the use of military force?

The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting.

Obviously, this was an extreme hypothetical. But the point of it was to discern the contours of the administration’s sense of its own obligation to come to Congress for approval of future hostilities. And it succeeded in doing just that, demonstrating that they recognize no such obligation.

[snip]

In the NPR interview, Lee also disclosed that at one point in the briefing, an official “discouraged us from even having a debate on the Senate floor” about whether Congress should pass new measures constraining Trump’s authority to launch future military actions without authorization.

“That might somehow embolden the Iranian regime in future attacks against the United States,” Lee said, characterizing the argument the official made.

[snip]

Our system is now functionally that one person makes these extraordinarily consequential decisions. Plainly, the person in question is not fit to do so.

Indeed, in this case, you’d think the starkness of the situation would get Congress — or, more precisely, congressional Republicans, since virtually all Democrats will do the right thing this time — to reassert its authority.

Trump has threatened war crimes, has boasted about the size of his missiles and just ordered an assassination of a senior military leader in a sovereign country without alerting Congress or seeking its approval, based on intelligence that is dubious at best and on rationales that have fallen apart.

But Trump’s tweet calling on “all House Republicans” to vote against the new war powers measure now means that being loyal to Trump is synonymous with giving him unconstrained warmaking authority, despite all the madness we’ve seen. And so it shall be.

BTW: On my understanding, “unconstrained warmaking authority” is a characteristic of a dictatorial monarchy. All hail the King.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Bolton - that would be Moscow Mitch.

Why Is Mitch McConnell So Afraid of John Bolton? asks Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III. They assert that The Senate must hear his testimony in an impeachment trial. Here are essential excerpts.

The importance of John Bolton’s offer to testify if subpoenaed in the impeachment proceedings against President Trump cannot be overstated. In a single stroke, Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, elevated truth and transparency over political gamesmanship.

The Senate must take him up on his offer, …

But is it likely given McConnell’s antipathy?

The core principle behind the rule of law is that justice is blind and partisan identity should not influence a trial’s outcome. But anyone watching Mr. McConnell twist himself into knots in trying to block witnesses and documents has to wonder whether this notion ever took root in his mind. He has gone so far as to say that “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.” He also said, “There’s no chance the president is going to be removed from office.”

How can Mr. McConnell make such a claim without having heard from Mr. Bolton? …

And how can Mr. McConnell make such a claim without having heard from the most important witness of all, Mr. Trump? …

There is only one possible explanation for this behavior: He is afraid of the truth. …

The two of us are lawyers and became friends and writing partners out of our shared reverence for the rule of law. We have very different politics, but we believe our commitment to this principle far eclipses the rest. The Constitution imposes upon the Senate a duty to “try all impeachments,” and so a real trial — with all relevant testimony and evidence — is what is required.

This week, Mr. Bolton, himself a lawyer, and recognizing the nature of the Senate’s crucial constitutional obligation, has taken a critical step in the right direction. It’s our hope that Americans will recognize that our commitment to the rule of law is what holds us together.

The truth may not set the president free, but the Constitution is meant to keep the country free, and a fair and impartial trial is what must take place here.

Mr. Katyal, the author of “Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump,” and Mr. Conway, an adviser to the Lincoln Project, are lawyers.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Will American military refuse an illegal order from the president. We may very well soon have an answer.

Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman (NY Times) report that Pentagon Rules Out Striking Iranian Cultural Sites, Contradicting Trump. The defense secretary acknowledged that “the laws of armed conflict” prohibited attacking antiquities and said the military had no plans to do so, even though the president declared them targets.

So will we or won’t we attack Iran’s antiquities?

The president says yes – and yes again.

The furor was a classic controversy of Mr. Trump’s creation, the apparent result of an impulsive threat and his refusal to back down in the face of criticism. When Mr. Trump declared on Saturday that the United States had identified 52 potential targets in Iran if it retaliates for the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, none of those targets qualified as cultural sites, according to an administration official who asked not to be identified correcting the president.

Nonetheless, when Mr. Trump casually said on Twitter that they included sites “very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” the resulting uproar only got his back up. Rather than simply say that cultural sites were not actually being targeted, the official said, he decided to double down the next day with reporters flying with him on Air Force One, scoffing at the idea that Iran could “kill our people” while “we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site,” saying, “It doesn’t work that way.”

The Secretary of Defense says no.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper sought to douse an international outcry on Monday by ruling out military attacks on cultural sites in Iran if the conflict with Tehran escalates further, despite President Trump’s threat to destroy some of the country’s treasured icons.

Mr. Esper acknowledged that striking cultural sites with no military value would be a war crime, putting him at odds with the president, who insisted such places would be legitimate targets. Mr. Trump’s threats generated condemnation at home and abroad while deeply discomfiting American military leaders who have made a career of upholding the laws of war.

“We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Mr. Esper said at a news briefing at the Pentagon when asked if cultural sites would be targeted as the president had suggested over the weekend. When a reporter asked if that meant “no” because the laws of war prohibit targeting cultural sites, Mr. Esper agreed. “That’s the laws of armed conflict.”

Everyone else is freaked.

Military leaders were left in the awkward position of trying to reaffirm their commitment to generations of war-fighting rules without angering a volatile commander in chief by contradicting him. Mr. Trump’s remarks unsettled even some of his allies, who considered them an unnecessary distraction at a time when the president should be focusing attention on Iran’s misdeeds rather than promising some of his own.

[Trump’s] comments drew protests from Iran and other American adversaries who said they showed that Mr. Trump is the aggressor — and not just against Iran’s government but against its people, its history and its very nationhood. Even some of America’s international partners weighed in, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain breaking with Mr. Trump by issuing a statement through an aide warning against targeting antiquities.

Moscovian candidate beholden to Putin for everything.

One of the questions central to the Trump presidency is what Russia has on Trump. The fourth headline above suggests the answer.

Following the money, Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos Staff reports on a possible answer in Explosive report indicates that Donald Trump’s loans from Deutsche Bank were backed by Russia.

The reasons that Donald Trump would need a massive distraction at this point are numerous. Every day seems to produce fresh evidence that the White House was fully aware that Trump’s delay of military assistance to Ukraine was simply against the law, and that multiple officials engaged in a criminal conspiracy to cover up for Trump and retroactively create an excuse for an inexcusable act. Somewhere right now, Mitch McConnell is probably drafting a statement claiming that the Senate could not possibly consider an impeachment trial “during a time of war.”

But onto that stack of dog-wagging rationales add this one: According to Forensic News, Trump’s loans from Deutsche Bank were underwritten by a Russian state-owned bank. That news reportedly comes from a whistleblower with access to documents from both Deutsche Bank and Russia’s state-owned VTB Bank. VTB Bank was also the proposed lender on the never-completed Trump Tower Moscow project.

The question of why Deutsche Bank would extend a series of huge loans to Trump has been dangling since before he ever announced his candidacy for president on a golden escalator ride. When Trump first went to Deutsche Bank, he was worse than broke. He had just finished bankrupting multiple casinos in New Jersey, and then had convinced investors to back a takeover of those casinos at a fraction of the original value. Then Trump deliberately allowed the investment group to go bankrupt so he could grab the whole deal himself at a fraction of what his investors had paid. Then he went bankrupt. Again. And along the way he was socked with a massive fine for money laundering at his now bankrupt (again) casino.

Trump was so fiscally radioactive that no American bank would let him in the door. But Deutsche Bank turned around and gifted Trump with loans that gave him a fresh start and an apparently miracle turnaround of his New York real estate empire. Those loans have always been the subject of head-scratching over just what Deutsche Bank could have been thinking. But if Forensic News is right, what Deutsche Bank was thinking was that it wasn’t risking a damn thing, because the Russian government was actually vouching for Trump through VTB Bank. If Trump didn’t come through, Vladimir Putin was offering to make it good.

The documents supposedly originated with the son of a former Deutsche Bank official who committed suicide, which is very much the kind of connection that raises concerns about the authenticity of the information. This only highlights the importance of efforts by Congress to gain access to information on these loans. The last appeals court ruling in the case instructed Deutsche Bank to turn over the information, but the Supreme Court stepped in to block the subpoena and hear the case.

Trump lost the fight against the congressional subpoena at the district level and in two appeals, with all judges decisively siding with Congress’ authority to request the records. That the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case is very unusual, both because there was no conflict among rulings by lower courts and because the Supreme Court tends to avoid most cases involving a conflict between the executive and legislative branches.

Much of Trump’s “recovery” depended on selling apartments and buildings to Russian oligarchs at far above market prices. Those deals have always suggested the same kind of money laundering that added to the conviction of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, but if these accusations are accurate, Russia did far more for Trump than buy his gilded condos.

If they are true, this would show that Donald Trump was 100% dependent on the Russian government for his “big comeback.” It would mean that he was completely beholden to Putin for his real estate, for his golf courses, for his candidacy—for everything.

Monday, January 6, 2020

After Trump-ordered assassination is there an ending 'short of war'

Quote of the Day: “It’s hard to envision how this ends short of war.” - Susan Rice.

Washington Posts columnist Max Boot asks the prime question following Trump’s killing of a Iranian general: Trump just upped the ante in the Middle East. Is he ready for what comes next?

One would hope that at this moment of peril the United States would be led by sober, experienced leaders presiding over a well-oiled national security decision-making process. But that is clearly not what we have. Many experts have long feared how Trump would react in a genuine, no-kidding crisis. We are now about to find out.

It is a near certainty that we will not like the answer.

The Dire Consequences of Trump’s Suleimani Decision are spelled out by Susan E. Rice, a contributing opinion writer for the NY Times and the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017. She tells us that One thing is clear after the killing of Iran’s second most important official: Americans are not safer. (And thanks to our roving reporter Sherry for the tip.)

Americans would be wise to brace for war with Iran.

Full-scale conflict is not a certainty, but the probability is higher than at any point in decades. …

[Read more of Rice’s thinking after the break below.]

In the face of Iranian reprisals, it will be difficult for the United States to de-escalate tensions and avoid a larger conflict. Iran gets the next move. The United States has failed to deter Tehran thus far, even with the deployment of 14,000 additional American troops to the Gulf region since May. The announcement this week that the Pentagon was sending 3,500 more soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division seems unlikely to change things.

When Iran does respond, its response will likely be multifaceted and occur at unpredictable times and in multiple places. President Trump will then face what may yet be the most consequential national security decision of his presidency. If he reacts with additional force, the risk is great that the confrontation will spiral into a wider military conflict. If he fails to react in kind, he will likely invite escalating Iranian aggression.

It’s hard to envision how this ends short of war.

Mother Nature's coming correction will do more to counteract Suleimani's blunders than the Trump-ordered assassination could ever do.

The bulk of blogsters and other media denizens converged on two questions. Did Iranian General Qassim Suleimani deserve to get killed on Trump’s order? Yes. Was Trump’s action a smart move? We don’t know yet. Here are perspectives on each question.

Did Suleimani deserve what Trump dished out?

NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman addresses the first question in an interesting way saying Trump Kills Iran’s Most Overrated Warrior.Suleimani pushed his country to build an empire, but drove it into the ground instead.

One day they may name a street after President Trump in Tehran. Why? Because Trump just ordered the assassination of possibly the dumbest man in Iran and the most overrated strategist in the Middle East: Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

Think of the miscalculations this guy made. In 2015, the United States and the major European powers agreed to lift virtually all their sanctions on Iran, many dating back to 1979, in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program for a mere 15 years, but still maintaining the right to have a peaceful nuclear program. It was a great deal for Iran. Its economy grew by over 12 percent the next year. And what did Suleimani do with that windfall?

He and Iran’s supreme leader launched an aggressive regional imperial project that made Iran and its proxies the de facto controlling power in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. This freaked out U.S. allies in the Sunni Arab world and Israel — and they pressed the Trump administration to respond. Trump himself was eager to tear up any treaty forged by President Obama, so he exited the nuclear deal and imposed oil sanctions on Iran that have now shrunk the Iranian economy by almost 10 percent and sent unemployment over 16 percent.

All that for the pleasure of saying that Tehran can call the shots in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. What exactly was second prize?

[snip] Read more about Suleimani’s blunders in the original.

The whole “protest” against the United States Embassy compound in Baghdad last week was almost certainly a Suleimani-staged operation to make it look as if Iraqis wanted America out when in fact it was the other way around. The protesters were paid pro-Iranian militiamen. No one in Baghdad was fooled by this.

In a way, it’s what got Suleimani killed. He so wanted to cover his failures in Iraq he decided to start provoking the Americans there by shelling their forces, hoping they would overreact, kill Iraqis and turn them against the United States. Trump, rather than taking the bait, killed Suleimani instead.

I have no idea whether this was wise or what will be the long-term implications. But here are two things I do know about the Middle East.

First, often in the Middle East the opposite of “bad” is not “good.” The opposite of bad often turns out to be “disorder.” Just because you take out a really bad actor like Suleimani doesn’t mean a good actor, or a good change in policy, comes in his wake. Suleimani is part of a system called the Islamic Revolution in Iran. That revolution has managed to use oil money and violence to stay in power since 1979 — and that is Iran’s tragedy, a tragedy that the death of one Iranian general will not change.

Today’s Iran is the heir to a great civilization and the home of an enormously talented people and significant culture. Wherever Iranians go in the world today, they thrive as scientists, doctors, artists, writers and filmmakers — except in the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose most famous exports are suicide bombing, cyberterrorism and proxy militia leaders. The very fact that Suleimani was probably the most famous Iranian in the region speaks to the utter emptiness of this regime, and how it has wasted the lives of two generations of Iranians by looking for dignity in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.

The other thing I know is that in the Middle East all important politics happens the morning after the morning after.

Yes, in the coming days there will be noisy protests in Iran, the burning of American flags and much crying for the “martyr.” The morning after the morning after? There will be a thousand quiet conversations inside Iran that won’t get reported. They will be about the travesty that is their own government and how it has squandered so much of Iran’s wealth and talent on an imperial project that has made Iran hated in the Middle East.

And yes, the morning after, America’s Sunni Arab allies will quietly celebrate Suleimani’s death, but we must never forget that it is the dysfunction of many of the Sunni Arab regimes — their lack of freedom, modern education and women’s empowerment — that made them so weak that Iran was able to take them over from the inside with its proxies.

Mother Nature’s correction

Friedman concludes:

I write these lines while flying over New Zealand, where the smoke from forest fires 2,500 miles away over eastern Australia can be seen and felt. Mother Nature doesn’t know Suleimani’s name, but everyone in the Arab world is going to know her name. Because the Middle East, particularly Iran, is becoming an environmental disaster area — running out of water, with rising desertification and overpopulation. If governments there don’t stop fighting and come together to build resilience against climate change — rather than celebrating self-promoting military frauds who conquer failed states and make them fail even more — they’re all doomed.

Was Trump’s action a smart move?

Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post answers in Whatever happens with Iran, I’m confident Donald Trump can get us through it.

Settle down. It’s tagged as “Satire.” Now read on.

Don’t worry! You or I may not know what the fallout will be from the drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. We may be a little unnerved by Iran’s vows of revenge. We may, naively, fear for the stability of the region and the safety of those who live there.

But surely Donald Trump would not have taken such an action without fully thinking through all of its possible consequences. Donald Trump does not just do things. Donald Trump must have applied exactly as much caution and forethought to this matter as we are accustomed to seeing from him on all issues, and, therefore, we have no cause for alarm. Whatever will come next, Donald Trump has surely anticipated it. This is Donald Trump we are talking about.

He is surrounded by the best people, people who would tell him if something he had done or was about to do was a bad idea. He does not randomly turn on the TV and implement whatever the blondest man suggests. He is the president of the United States, with access to maximum information, and that is what he uses to guide him.

This is not some low-stakes matter, like whether to flush a toilet 10 times or 15 times. On this question, human lives hang in the balance. And thankfully, Donald Trump understands the cost of war. The fact that his personal intervention has been key in the clearing of a Navy SEAL who now uses his platform to promote “KILL BAD DUDES”-themed merchandise and specialty knives after posing for photos with a dead body is — not a reflection of how Donald Trump sees war.

Donald Trump is not just flailing haplessly around like a cat with its head stuck in a bucket. This guy gets it. He is the one who put Jared Kushner in charge of the Middle East!

I am sure he gave this just as much thought as — or, indeed, even more thought than — he gives less important decisions, such as whether to tweet or whether to accept Rudy Giuliani’s services as his personal lawyer. It is surprising and inconsistent that the Pentagon’s statement about it misidentified the organization Soleimani led. That does not reflect the level of professionalism at work here, which is no doubt high.

As we walk down a road whose end not even experts can possibly guess, who better than Donald Trump to lead us? He is no expert. Who would you rather have steering this country through a nerve-racking and divisive period than Donald Trump, with his keen sense of history and equally keen sense of reality? And if things go south, whom else would I trust to keep an even keel and figure out solutions in a clearheaded manner? What name could possibly leap to mind before the name “Donald Trump”?

In the past, America has blundered into thankless wars that devoured decades and ended thousands of lives. We did not know what we were doing, and we did not know how to get out. But that was because Donald Trump was not in charge.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Eratic. Reactive. Unreliable. Dysfunctional. Those are not the words we want to hear as the Trump administration prepares for war.

A.B. Stoddard (associate editor of RealClearPolitics) exposes how In New Crises, Our Enemies See How Vulnerable We Are. (Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for this tip.)

President Trump’s bold assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani has risked escalation of tensions – or war – with Iran, as he faces provocation from North Korea following a dark December that cemented the instability and liabilities of his administration. He’s a president consumed and distracted by a coming Senate trial, impeached for interfering in next year’s election and still using Kremlin talking points to explain 2016 election interference. Trump’s also dealing with a recent exodus at the Pentagon and a secretary of state likely to leave for a Senate campaign. Revelations in the New York Times last week that our top three national security officials could not convince the president to release congressionally approved aid to Ukraine last summer underscored the strategic weakness that results from a leader unwilling to act in the national interest.

Read on. You will see that when it comes to responsibility for America’s actions, the buck does not stop at the White House.

There are substantive questions about the efficacy of Trump’s three-year policy record toward North Korea and Iran and the two maximum pressure campaigns that have not brought the Iranians to the table, nor convinced Kim Jong Un to disarm his nuclear arsenal. He has answered Kim’s ominous hint of a long-range ballistic missile test by calling the murderous dictator “a man of his word.” But his shocking decision to order the latest airstrike, which the administration characterized as “defensive action” against the Iranians, is likely to, at best, demand more U.S. forces in the region just as Trump sought to draw them down while threatening the safety of American service men and women in the region. At worst, he has begun the very hot war he has opposed throughout his campaign and presidency.

And that is already happening. The NY Times reports on the deployment of more U. S. troops to the the Middle East. The Killing of Gen. Qassim Suleimani: What We Know Since the U.S. Airstrike. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised retaliation. The U.S. moved to send more troops to the Middle East. And a deluge of threats on social media.

Around the time of the overnight strike, a Special Operations unit based in the United States boarded transport aircraft bound for the Middle East, one Defense Department official said.

The deployment of the elite Army Rangers was the latest to the region. This week, the Pentagon readied 4,000 troops based at Fort Bragg, N.C., for a similar security mission to Kuwait. They are to depart in the coming days, joining 750 troops already deployed, officials said.

“The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities,” a Department of Defense spokesperson said.

So planning for a war with Iran was already underway when Suleimani was killed.

Back to Stoddard …

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, noted on Twitter that “it would be ironic and worse yet tragic as well as dangerous if an administration that wanted to reduce the US footprint in the Mideast has set in motion a dynamic that will draw us in much further at a time we face challenges from China and NK in Asia and Russia in Europe.”

President Trump stands at this brink having depleted the trust of allies around the world. Indeed the only alliances Trump seems to be strengthening are the ones between our adversaries. As he was carrying on about Hillary Clinton and “Crazy Nancy” last week, the Iranians participated in naval exercises with the Russians and the Chinese, an ominous signal to any national security expert not lost in a tweet storm.

What’s more, those nations, and non-state actors, that seek to harm U.S. interests must be delighted by what they see in Washington, D.C. While the U.S Embassy was still under attack in Baghdad they saw our commander-in-chief tweeting about something someone on Fox News said about Peter Strzok. They have seen him demean as “human scum” patriotic Foreign Service officials who revealed his Ukrainian shakedown; retweeted an article outing the whistleblower; pardoned war criminals within the U.S. armed services; and then referred to the military leaders who opposed such a breach of the warrior code of conduct as “the deep state.” They have read the crazed six-page letter Trump sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the eve of the impeachment vote in the House, and they saw his wife’s face as he laced into Pelosi again on New Year’s Eve, a tuxedoed tailspin about how Pelosi should be ashamed of herself, and she’s so “overrated.”

They also know the Russian government, perhaps trolling us as President Vladimir Putin enjoys doing these days, informed us of his latest conversation with Trump before our government owned up to it. They know Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is managing fallout from the Ukraine scandal he’s complicit in along with both new security crises while he weighs a Senate bid. On Wednesday Pompeo canceled his second planned trip to Ukraine to visit with President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Trump tried to extort. In November it was impeachment that kept Pompeo away, and this time he remained in Washington because of the attacks in Iraq. In the intervening two months he has made time to meet with donors, travel to Kansas, and update his personal Twitter account as well as his old campaign website.

Like Pompeo, many others who have served for nearly all of Trump’s tenure in office will soon be leaving as the end of a first term is a traditional time of attrition in every administration. Yet turnover in Trump’s administration has set a record. As he takes on two new international crises, this won’t get better – stepping into consequential roles in a dysfunctional administration during a tumultuous election year isn’t high on the list of most credentialed experts best suited to fill the openings.

Beneath the surface of Trump’s erratic and reactive leadership during three years free of international crises, he has also destabilized the infrastructure meant to bolster the defenses in place to manage them. A flurry of departures at the Pentagon, including some people who started their jobs last year, has worried national security officials concerned that the combination of vacancies and people serving in acting roles has undermined our capacity and damaged morale in ranks across the departments of state, homeland security and defense, where cohesive policy goals and a clear mission are necessary for effective outcomes.

Six of 21 deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy positions are either vacant or filled in an acting capacity. The recent firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, resulting from his disagreement over Trump’s controversial pardons, was followed by the exit of five additional top officials in December, including the head of personnel and readiness, a top Asia policy official, senior adviser for international cooperation, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and the head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Four of the announcements occurred in one week. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he expects more departures soon.

While President Trump has said he enjoys the “flexibility” of having unconfirmed staff in “acting” roles, those officials traditionally don’t enjoy the authority, or often resources, to enact change, lead their teams and maintain morale.

According to the political appointments tracker compiled by the Partnership for Public Service, 136 key positions have no nominee, 83 are nominated but not confirmed, and 515 of 743 have been confirmed. At the State Department, that includes 26 positions with no permanent nominee – among them the special envoy for North Korea human rights issues, an assistant secretary for south Asian affairs, ambassador to Japan, ambassador to Ukraine, undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs, and assistant secretary for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense. At the Department of Defense there are nine and at the Department of Homeland Security the five positions without permanent nominees including secretary, director of ICE, deputy secretary, and general counsel.

There are currently too many vacancies in critical positions, leaving the government unable to respond to challenges – beyond the current crises – that we cannot even yet anticipate, said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service.

“Challenges to our government become more dangerous and complicated, not less, over time,” Stier said. “Having a robust and effective government is fundamental to our safety.”

While Stier said there is blame to go around for a system that is backlogged by far too many positions (1,200) requiring Senate confirmation, leaving so many open or staffed by those without adequate authority creates an unnecessary and potentially dangerous vulnerability.

“That’s not the way this government is supposed to work, that’s not the way the Constitution says it’s supposed to work,” he said. “This should be something that worries people.”

Crises cannot be avoided. But reliable leadership, with every available resource behind it, is required. Trump meets his most critical test yet without it.

Friday, January 3, 2020

The consequences of the targeted assassination of Qasim Suleimani - what we don't know will hurt us.

Charlie Sykes, in The Bulwark morning email, muses about The Known Unknowns.

Are you not distracted?

Let’s be clear: last night’s targeted assassination of Qasim Suleimani was a victory for the U.S., a defeat for the Iranian mullahs, and condign punishment for an operative who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. Via the NYT: “General Suleimani was the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades, and his death was a staggering blow for Iran at a time of sweeping geopolitical conflict.”

So that much we know.

You can take issue with Sykes’ assertions about who got what from the assassination, but he continues with an assessment of what is to come.

What is not clear is (1) whether this actually makes the U.S. safer, (2) how far this will escalate the conflicts in the Middle East, and (3) whether we have a plan to handle the blow-back. and there will be blow-back; but we don’t yet know where, what, and how bad it will be.

Or, as Donald Rumsfeld put it so memorably:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

We have called something from the vasty deep. But what will come?

This is especially unknowable when we have a C-in-C who famously dismisses the advice of his generals, acts on impulse, and disdains his own intelligence community. “What could go wrong?” is not a rhetorical question here. The situation seems rife with the possibility for deadly miscalculations by both our friends and our enemies.

It would be great to think that the Mideast has suddenly become more stable, and America more feared and respected. But, by now we ought to have realized that the region is never predictable, alliances never certain, and we simply do not know how a single assassination might change history once again.

Here are more historical details via the Daily Beast: U.S. Braces for Iran’s ‘Counterpunch’ After Slaying of Soleimani. The consequences may not come quickly or directly. But they could be enormous.

“Some will celebrate, some will mourn, some will seek revenge,” said an Iraqi official as word spread in Baghdad on Thursday night that the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani had been killed in an American airstrike. But there is little question, the official added, that U.S. relations with Baghdad are in “real jeopardy.”

The consequences may not come quickly or directly. But they could be enormous. At their most dire, this strike may be the beginning of a much wider war in the Middle East—perhaps even the all-out war with Iran that Trump has said he wants to avoid.

In a tweet early Friday, Trump sounded a bellicose note: “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!”

I would add: and bombast never insulated us from the consequences of our actions.

The strike against Soleimani could also write the last chapter of the American saga in Iraq that began with the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the tyrant Saddam Hussein in 2003.

More follows the break below. The Beast winds up with this.

Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American author and commentator, says Soleimani was “probably the second most important person in Iran” behind Ayatollah Khamenei. While seen as a villain by the U.S. for the past 15 years, Majd said, Soleimani commanded nationalist respect across Iranian factions as a hero fighting Iran’s enemies rather than directing domestic repression.

“He’s way more popular than any reformist,” Majd said, and that would include President Hassan Rouhani.

It’s not clear how carefully the Trump administration calculated the repercussions of killing such a figure, but those who follow the region closely are concerned about what lies ahead.

"We need to get ready for a major pushback,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump ally. “Our people in Iraq and the Middle East are going to be targeted. We need to be ready to defend our people in the Middle East. I think we need to be ready for a big counterpunch. This was a defensive act. If Iranian aggression continues we need to put their oil refineries on the target list. Iran needs to understand that we mean it. You’re not going to come after our people.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said bluntly that “President Trump is bringing our nation to the brink of an illegal war with Iran without any congressional approval as required under the Constitution of the United States.”

Udall added, “Congress must step in immediately to reclaim its constitutional war powers.”

But it may be a little late for that.

Read the rest of the Beast’s historical recap of events leading to the assassination of Qasim Suleimani by the U. S.

Abigail Disney is one of the Patriotic Millionaires devoted to action on extreme inequality.

As the calendar turned over a page to January 1, thousands of Arizona workers got a pay raise.

In the January 1st Daily Star Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services reports that the Arizona minimum wage increases Jan. 1 from $11 to $12 per hour. For the worker logging 2080 hours (52 weeks x 40 hours) that amounts to $2,080 per year or about $1,600 after taxes. (More on this latter point below). My eye-ball averaging of Fischer’s numbers suggests over 300,000 workers would benefit.

Now don’t get me wrong here. For people earning so little, even a little by other standards will be enormously helpful. But what I wish to drive home today is that it’s not enough. When corporate CEOs take home millions and millions of dollars each year a $1 hourly raise is not even a blip in the economic inequality data.

Sheelah Kolhatkar at the New Yorker reports on [The Ultra-Wealthy Who Argue That They Should Be Paying Higher Taxes][ultra]. She provides a case study: In an age of historic disparity, Abigail Disney and the Patriotic Millionaires take on income inequality.

For those interested in economic in justice in all its forms, this one should be read in entirety. Among other insights, we learn about how even the very wealthy have misgivings about the magnitude of that disparity. Here I will post on just a few passages from Kolhatkar’s intriguing report.

Let’s start at the top of the economic food chain.

On April 10th [2019], a video of Representative Katie Porter, of California, questioning Jamie Dimon, the C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase, went viral. Dimon had previously spoken about the many Americans “left behind,” noting that forty per cent of people in the U.S. earned less than fifteen dollars an hour, and that the same percentage said that they didn’t have four hundred dollars in savings to deal with an emergency. JPMorgan Chase had just reported $9.2 billion in profit for the first quarter and almost thirty billion dollars in revenue; Dimon had been paid thirty-one million dollars the year before. Porter described the monthly budget of a hypothetical new employee at a Chase bank in Irvine, California—a single mother who was earning sixteen dollars and fifty cents an hour. After paying the rent for a one-bedroom apartment that she shared with her daughter, plus the costs of utilities, food, child care, and a basic cell phone, the woman, Porter said, had a five-hundred-and-sixty-dollar deficit each month. “My question for you, Mr. Dimon, is: How should she manage this budget shortfall while she’s working full time at your bank?” Porter said. Dimon seemed uncomfortable; he told Porter that he “would have to think about it.”

By the numbers: compare Dimon’s $31,000,000 against the average yearly wage for a worker earning a minimum hourly wage of $15 – that yearly pay is $31,200. The inequality ratio is about 1,000 to one.

In the U.S., executive compensation has increased, on average, by nine hundred and forty per cent since 1978, according to one estimate; during the same period, worker pay has risen twelve per cent. Income inequality hasn’t been this extreme since the nineteen-twenties. A recent study by the economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that, as a result of cuts to estate and corporate taxes, as well as the 2017 G.O.P. tax bill, the four hundred richest Americans pay a lower over-all tax rate than any other group in the country. In a Times Op-Ed, Saez and Zucman wrote, “This is the tax system of a plutocracy.”

[In 2014] the entrepreneur Nick Hanauer, one of the first investors in Amazon, gave a ted talk called “Beware, Fellow Plutocrats, the Pitchforks Are Coming.” After describing his multiple homes, his yacht, and his private plane, Hanauer argued that the U.S. was at risk of becoming a neo-feudalist rentier society similar to France before the Revolution. In an essay in Politico, he wrote, “Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand.”

Kolhatkar’s focus is on one multimillionaire - Abigail Disney. Yep - of those Disneys.

… As a child, she would go with her grandfather to Disneyland, where she was treated as a special guest. “He loved taking us to the front of the line,” she said. She would hang her head as they marched past other families who had been waiting for rides in the hot sun. “I’d say, ‘Grandpa, they hate us,’ ” she recalled. “And he’d say, ‘I worked so hard all those years so you could go to the front of the line.’ ” …

… One day, when her children were older, she took an overnight flight [on her family’s private 737] from California to New York, where she lives. She was travelling alone, but there was a full staff on duty to cater to her needs. As she got into the queen-size bed and secured the safety belt that stretched across the mattress, preparing to sleep for the next few hours, an unpleasant feeling came over her. “I couldn’t help thinking about the carbon footprint of it, and all the fuel,” she said. “It just felt so wrong.”

And then she decided to do something about it.

In 2011, she joined an organization called the Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy Americans who are concerned about rising income inequality and who speak out in favor of policies traditionally considered to be antithetical to their economic interests. She began to make public appearances and videos in which she promoted higher taxes on the wealthy. She told me that she realized that the luxuries she and her family enjoyed were really a way of walling themselves off from the world, which made it easier to ignore certain economic realities. “Coming face to face with it feels fucking awful,” she said. “That’s why the wealthy have the private planes and the bottle service in the back and the limousines with the tinted windows.”

Disney is one of the highest-profile figures in the Patriotic Millionaires, which now has more than two hundred members in thirty-four states: technology entrepreneurs, software engineers, Wall Street investors, industrialists, and inheritors of family fortunes. Although Abigail is best known for her criticisms of the Disney company, the group’s mission was initially a simple idea endorsed by a half-dozen rich people: “Please raise our taxes.” The members now have the broader goal of pressuring their wealthy peers to confront what they believe are the destructive effects of trickle-down economics—the idea, which has driven U.S. policy decisions for several decades and has largely been debunked, that reducing taxes on businesses and the wealthy will benefit low- and middle-income workers. Members of the Patriotic Millionaires lobby lawmakers and affluent individuals to instead support policies that would, for instance, increase the minimum wage and raise taxes on corporations and the rich. “If you want to change social norms, you’ve got to be out there going public about your beliefs,” Eric Schoenberg, a former investment banker, said, during a breakfast that the group held in New York, in October.

To qualify for the group, members must have an annual income of at least a million dollars, or assets worth more than five million dollars. That could include many families who would describe themselves as upper middle class—who, for instance, own homes in cities with hot real-estate markets. When I asked Payne how hard it was to persuade rich people to join, she said, “I think the last time I checked there were about three hundred and seventy-five thousand taxpayers in the country who make a million dollars a year in income”—there are now almost half a million—“and we have a couple hundred members.” She laughed. “If you ever needed a back-of-the-envelope calculation of how many of America’s élite are concerned about the basic well-being of their fellow-citizens, that should give you a rough estimate.” Members include Chuck Collins, the heir to the Oscar Mayer fortune; Roberta Kaplan, the civil-rights lawyer; Jeffrey Gural, the real-estate investor; and George Zimmer, the founder of Men’s Wearhouse.

… the group’s members say that they are concerned about the future of the nation. Some of them feel that severe inequality fuels corruption and has led to the election of Trump and other right-wing leaders across the world. Many of them believe that inaction on inequality could lead to the kinds of violent street protests recently seen in countries like Chile.

[The founder of Patriotic Millionaires, Erica Payne] began approaching Democratic donors and businesspeople to pitch the idea of an organization focussed on three core beliefs: that if people work full time they should be paid enough to meet their basic needs; that regular people deserve as much political power as the wealthy; and that rich people and corporations should pay higher taxes. Payne speaks bluntly about these goals. People who support tax cuts for high earners and reductions to social programs are “very deliberately attempting to create a permanent underclass,” she said. “You want people to suffer and die earlier, because your greed is more important to you than another human being.”

… Several members, including Molly Munger, the daughter of Charlie Munger, the longtime vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway, have spoken in favor of a wealth tax.

In February, Morris Pearl, a former executive at the asset-management firm BlackRock and the chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, wrote an article for the group’s Web site expressing support for Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax, which would impose a tariff of two per cent on fortunes greater than fifty million dollars and three per cent on those above a billion. (Warren recently doubled her proposed billion-plus tax rate, to six per cent.) The group helped develop a bill, introduced in the House of Representatives in November, that would impose a surtax on the country’s highest earners, and it is working on other legislation, including a bill that would raise the estate tax.

More business leaders have begun to say that inequality has reached dangerous levels. In April, Ray Dalio, the founder of the hundred-and-sixty-billion-dollar hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, posted a lengthy essay on LinkedIn in which he wrote that American workers in the bottom sixty per cent of earners have had no income growth, after adjusting for inflation, since 1980, while the incomes of the top ten per cent have doubled and those of the top one per cent have tripled. One graphic ranked wealthy countries in terms of the likelihood that a child born into the lowest economic quartile would move into the top quartile; the U.S. was second to last, ahead of only China. Dalio warned that, if capitalism wasn’t drastically changed, the U.S. would have “great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt everyone.”

Can philanthropy equalize? Disney is skeptical.

[Kolhatkar] asked [Disney] how she felt about the pledge that billionaires such as Buffett and Bill Gates had signed, promising to donate at least half of their fortunes to philanthropic causes. “I’ve given away much more than fifty per cent of my net worth, and I don’t intend to stop,” she said. “And, frankly, *if you’re a billionaire and only want to give away half of your fortune, something is wrong with you.*” Disney is wary of the idea that the generosity of individual rich people can solve society’s problems.

Let me leave with two other items.

First, from Abigail Disney:

Why, [Kolhatkar] asked Disney, did she have faith that things would get better, when there was so much evidence to the contrary? “I always keep coming back to the idea that you just keep investing in the future,”

Second, as a means to that investment, read more about The Patriotic Millionaires from their web site.

Proud “traitors to their class,” members of the Patriotic Millionaires are high-net worth Americans, business leaders, and investors who are united in their concern about the destabilizing concentration of wealth and power in America. The mission of The Patriotic Millionaires organization is to build a more stable, prosperous, and inclusive nation by promoting public policies based on the “first principles” of equal political representation, a guaranteed living wage for all working citizens, and a fair tax system:

  • All citizens should enjoy political power equal to that enjoyed by millionaires;
  • All citizens who work full time should be able to afford their basic needs;
  • Tax receipts from millionaires, billionaires and corporations should make up a greater proportion of federal tax receipts.

The Republican party stands only for what Trump has just tweeted.

Stuart Stevens, “a writer and GOP political consultant who is working with a political action committee that backs Bill Weld for president,” has a message for the GOP: Wake up, Republicans. Your party stands for all the wrong things now. Republicans are now officially the character doesn’t count party. (Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry and Bulwark author Charlie Sykes.)

Here’s a question: Does anybody have any idea what the Republican Party stands for in 2020?

One way to find out: As you are out and about marking the new year, it is likely you will come across a Republican to whom you can pose the question, preferably after a drink or two, as that tends to work as truth serum: “Look, I was just wondering: What’s the Republican Party all about these days? What does it, well, stand for?”

I’m betting the answer is going to involve a noun, a verb and either “socialism” or “Democrats.” Republicans now partly define their party simply as an alternative to that other party, as in, “I’m a Republican because I’m not a Democrat.”Here’s a question: Does anybody have any idea what the Republican Party stands for in 2020?

One way to find out: As you are out and about marking the new year, it is likely you will come across a Republican to whom you can pose the question, preferably after a drink or two, as that tends to work as truth serum: “Look, I was just wondering: What’s the Republican Party all about these days? What does it, well, stand for?”

I’m betting the answer is going to involve a noun, a verb and either “socialism” or “Democrats.” Republicans now partly define their party simply as an alternative to that other party, as in, “I’m a Republican because I’m not a Democrat.”

In a long-forgotten era — say, four years ago — such a question would have elicited a very different answer. Though there was disagreement over specific issues, most Republicans would have said the party stood for some basic principles: fiscal sanity, free trade, strong on Russia, and that character and personal responsibility count. Today it’s not that the Republican Party has forgotten these issues and values; instead, it actively opposes all of them.

Republicans are now officially the character doesn’t count party, the personal responsibility just proves you have failed to blame the other guy party, the deficit doesn’t matter party, the Russia is our ally party, and the I’m-right-and-you-are-human-scum party. Yes, it’s President Trump’s party now, but it stands only for what he has just tweeted.

A party without a governing theory, a higher purpose or a clear moral direction is nothing more than a cartel, a syndicate that exists only to advance itself. There is no organized, coherent purpose other than the acquisition and maintenance of power.

This is a sad fall. In Ronald Reagan’s America, being born an American was to win’s life lottery; in Donald Trump’s America, it makes you a victim, a patsy, a chump.

Trump didn’t hijack the GOP and bend it to his will. He did something far easier: He looked at the party, saw its fault lines and then offered himself as a pure distillation of accumulated white grievance and anger. He bet that Republican voters didn’t really care about free trade or mutual security, or about the environment or Europe, much less deficits. He rebranded kindness and compassion as “PC” and elevated division and bigotry as the admirable goals of just being politically incorrect. Trump didn’t make Americans more racist; he just normalized the resentments that were simmering in many households. In short, he let a lot of long-suppressed demons out of the box.

This paranoid element in the party has existed for decades, since the Joe McCarthy era, when some Republicans who saw dark forces threatening the country argued that only radical action by “true” Americans — white, Christian, conservative — could safeguard the nation. Barry Goldwater revived the theme in 1964, and George Wallace won five states with it as a third-party candidate in 1968. I worked in every Republican presidential campaign from 1996 through 2012 and assumed that those guys had long been vanquished and that optimism and inclusion had prevailed. I was wrong.

This impeachment moment and all that has led to it should signal a day of reckoning. A party that has as its sole purpose the protection and promotion of its leader, whatever he thinks, is not on a sustainable path. Can anyone force a change? I’m not optimistic. Trump won with 46.1 percent of the vote in 2016, while Mitt Romney lost with 47.2 percent in 2012; no wonder Republicans have convinced themselves that the path to victory and power lies with angry division. Having ignored the warning signs for years myself, I know the seductive lure of believing what you prefer while ignoring the obvious truth.

Which is this: We are a long way — more than a half-century — from 1968, much less 1952. The United States is now a diverse, chaotic collection of 330 million people, a country of immigrants and multiculturalism that is growing less white every day. It is not some gauzy Shangri-La of suburban bliss that never existed.

I’d like to say that I believe the party I spent so many years fighting for could rise to the challenge of this moment. But there have been too many lies for too long.

For a case study check out Lindsey Graham 20 years ago and today.

What a difference 20 years makes … to Lindsey Graham (with thanks to Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark.

Lindsey Graham’s (fake) Conscience
‏@LGsConscience
"But I have a lot of faith in our United States Senate that when they swear to be impartial, and that they will not make up their mind until they hear all the evidence, that I believe them. All I ask is to take your oath, listen to the evidence.” LG 1998

Which raises the question: Is Lindsey Graham really a hypocrite on impeachment? A look at the record

THEN: On January 16, 1999, a Southern politician with a mop of faintly graying hair stood on the floor of the United States Senate and made a striking proclamation about what it meant to impeach a president.

“You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role,” the politician said. “Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”

NOW: "I’ve written the whole process off… I think this is a bunch of B.S.,” Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said.

Why obstruction and intransigence are foolish defenses for Trump in the Senate trial

Two good tweets about introduction of evidence and testimony at the coming Senate impeachment trial.

From Joyce Alene @JoyceWhiteVance (U. Alabama Law Professor and MSNBC contributor)

It’s time to add a corollary rule: No one keeps emails, texts or other documents that can exonerate them from being introduced at trial.

No one prevents a witness who can exonerate them from testifying.

Laurence Tribe @tribelaw tweets about impartiality.

When the Chief Justice administers the oath of impartiality to a Senator who has said he will not be impartial, he will need to decide what his own oath demands — and whether he has jurisdiction to rule on a motion to recuse that Senator for cause.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Impeachment - this was the year that Trump 'got caught'

This last year Trump’s misdeeds resulted in impeachment. “He got caught.”

With that we begin a not-so-new year. Trump, gleefully, will continue to wage war on everything that it means to be American. Republicans, or rather those who apply that label erroneously to themselves, will take offense (or worse) when Trump’s bad character is exposed. They’ll defend him to the death (of their party). Conservative they are not.

Another prospect for the new year is increased economic inequality. We are already at historically the largest difference between CEOs and workers since the Great Depression and it will get worse. But I’ll address that in a different post.

So here are the first of my musings.

Late-Stage Trumpism

About a year ago (Jan. 6, 2019) Charlie Sykes, writing at The Bulwark told us What Romney Exposed About Late-Stage Trumpism. For some reason, Trump supporters get angry when critics discuss the president’s character.

Last week’s op-ed from Mitt Romney was interesting not just for what it was, but for what the response to it revealed. Because the defense mounted by Trump World tells us quite a lot about the decadence of late stage Trumpism.

Romney’s central heresy was his observation that “policies and appointments are only a part of a presidency.”

To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable.

Not only is this passage not especially controversial—it’s almost a boilerplate restatement of what conservatives have claimed to believe for decades.

[Skipping to the end ….]

In reference to ‘Roger Kimball who has heroically taken up Jonah Goldberg’s challenge to “come up with a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear." … ’

[Peter] Wehner recognized the intellectual antecedents of the strutting bully-boys of Trumpism, even if they were oblivious of the source. Nietzsche would have fit seamlessly into the pages of American Greatness or on Fox News’ primetime lineup. His twitter feed would have been lit. As Wehner wrote:

Whether or not he has read a word of Nietzsche (I’m guessing not), Mr. Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one. It is characterized by indifference to objective truth (there are no facts, only interpretations), the repudiation of Christian concern for the poor and the weak, and disdain for the powerless. It celebrates the “Übermensch,” or Superman, who rejects Christian morality in favor of his own. For Nietzsche, strength was intrinsically good and weakness was intrinsically bad. So, too, for Donald Trump.

This is what Romney exposed. While mouthing pieties about Christian values, late stage Trumpism is edging ever closer to explicitly embracing Nietzsche’s upside down moral universe. And this is as dangerous as it is disappointing.

What Trump costs America

In a word, trust.

Michiko Kakutani, ‘a former book critic for The Times’, shows us How social media, the Great Recession and Donald Trump combined to bring out the ‘indigenous American berserk.’. She says “The 2010s Were the End of Normal.” Following are excerpts.

Apocalypse is not yet upon our world as the 2010s draw to an end, but there are portents of disorder. The hopes nourished during the opening years of the decade — hopes that America was on a progressive path toward growing equality and freedom, hopes that technology held answers to some of our most pressing problems — have given way, with what feels like head-swiveling speed, to a dark and divisive new era. Fear and distrust are ascendant now. … and since 2017, the United States has not only abdicated its role as a stabilizing leader on the global stage, but is also sowing unpredictability and chaos abroad.

The biggest casualty of the decade was trust. … As with many things, Donald Trump is both a symptom and a radical accelerant of the decline in trust. While exploiting the anger at the establishment that snowballed around the world in response to the 2008 financial crisis, Mr. Trump has also cruelly amplified existing divisions and resentments in America, fueling suspicion of immigrants and minorities and injecting white nationalist views into the mainstream, in efforts to gin up his base.

Mr. Trump’s improbable rise benefited from a perfect storm of larger economic, social and demographic changes, and the profoundly disruptive effects of new technology. His ascent also coincided with the rising anxieties and sense of dislocation produced by such tectonic shifts. Around the world, liberal democracy is facing grave new challenges, authoritarianism is on the rise and science is being questioned by “post-fact” politicians. …

… As a candidate, Mr. Trump sold himself as the champion of such voters — whom he called “the forgotten men and women” — and he promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington. But once in office, he enlarged the swamp, hiring some 281 lobbyists, and set about cutting taxes for corporations and the very rich.

He also began a war on the institutions that were the very pillars of the government he now headed. [Trump is] nihilistically trying to undermine public faith in the efficacy, the professionalism, even the mission of the institutions that are crucial for guarding our national security, negotiating with foreign governments and ensuring the safety of our environment and workplaces. Mr. Trump also launched chilling attacks on those he reviled — from the F.B.I. to the judiciary — for having failed to put loyalty to him ahead of loyalty to the Constitution.

This is familiar behavior among authoritarians and would-be dictators, who resent constitutional checks and balances, and who want to make themselves the sole arbiters of truth and reality. A reporter said that in 2016 when she asked Mr. Trump why he continually assailed the press, he replied: “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.” It was fitting, then, that in January 2017, the month of his inauguration, George Orwell’s classic novel “1984” shot to the top of best-seller lists. The nearly 70-year-old novel suddenly felt unbearably timely with its depiction of a world in which the truth is whatever Big Brother says it is.

One of the terrible ironies of Mr. Trump’s presidency is that his administration’s dysfunction — little to no policymaking process on many issues, impulsive decision-making, contempt for expertise and plunging morale at beleaguered agencies — creates a toxic feedback loop that further undermines public trust in the government and lends momentum to his desire to eviscerate the “deep state.” The conflicts of interest that swirl around Mr. Trump and his cronies further increase the public’s perception of corruption and unfairness.

… in an era of data overload and short attention spans, it’s not the most reliable, trustworthy material that goes viral — it’s the loudest voices, the angriest, most outrageous posts that get clicked and shared.

Without reliable information, citizens cannot make informed decisions about the issues of the day, and we cannot hold politicians to account. Without commonly agreed upon facts, we cannot have reasoned debates with other voters and instead become susceptible to the fear-mongering of demagogues. When politicians constantly lie, overwhelming and exhausting us while insinuating that everyone is dishonest and corrupt, the danger is that we grow so weary and cynical that we withdraw from civic engagement. And if we fail to engage in the political process — or reflexively support the individual from “our” party while reflexively dismissing the views of others — then we are abdicating common sense and our responsibility as citizens.

84 days of schemes and corruption: “He got caught.”

The NY Times has a comprehensive time-line of the Quid Pro Quo: Behind the Ukraine Aid Freeze: 84 Days of Conflict and Confusion. The inside story of President Trump’s demand to halt military assistance to an ally shows the price he was willing to pay to carry out his agenda.

WASHINGTON — Deep into a long flight to Japan aboard Air Force One with President Trump, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, dashed off an email to an aide back in Washington.

“I’m just trying to tie up some loose ends,” Mr. Mulvaney wrote. “Did we ever find out about the money for Ukraine and whether we can hold it back?”

It was June 27, more than a week after Mr. Trump had first asked about putting a hold on security aid to Ukraine, an embattled American ally, and Mr. Mulvaney needed an answer.

The aide, Robert B. Blair, replied that it would be possible, but not pretty. “Expect Congress to become unhinged” if the White House tried to countermand spending passed by the House and Senate, he wrote in a previously undisclosed email. And, he wrote, it might further fuel the narrative that Mr. Trump was pro-Russia.

Mr. Blair was right, even if his prediction of a messy outcome was wildly understated. Mr. Trump’s order to hold $391 million worth of sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, night vision goggles, medical aid and other equipment the Ukrainian military needed to fight a grinding war against Russian-backed separatists would help pave a path to the president’s impeachment.

The Democratic-led inquiry into Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine this spring and summer established that the president was actively involved in parallel efforts — both secretive and highly unusual — to bring pressure on a country he viewed with suspicion, if not disdain.

One campaign, spearheaded by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, aimed to force Ukraine to conduct investigations that could help Mr. Trump politically, including one focused on a potential Democratic 2020 rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The other, which unfolded nearly simultaneously but has gotten less attention, was the president’s demand to withhold the security assistance. By late summer, the two efforts merged as American diplomats used the withheld aid as leverage in the effort to win a public commitment from the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to carry out the investigations Mr. Trump sought into Mr. Biden and unfounded or overblown theories about Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election.

Interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony provide the most complete account yet of the 84 days from when Mr. Trump first inquired about the money to his decision in September to relent.

The key players knew that something was wrong.

“Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute the direction,” Mr. Duffey wrote in his note, which was released this month to the Center for Public Integrity.

In spite of that attempt at concealment, the word got out. Senators were putting pressure on, the whistle blower filed a complaint, and committees in the House were gearing up for an investigation. So …

Still, White House officials did not expect anything to change, especially since Mr. Trump had repeatedly rejected the advice of his national security team.

But then, just as suddenly as the hold was imposed, it was lifted. Mr. Trump, apparently unwilling to wage a public battle, told Mr. Portman he would let the money go.

White House aides rushed to notify their counterparts at the Pentagon and elsewhere. The freeze had been lifted. The money could be spent. Get it out the door, they were told.

The debate would now begin as to why the hold was lifted, with Democrats confident they knew the answer.

"I have no doubt about why the president allowed the assistance to go forward,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “He got caught.”

The AZ Blue Meanie weighs in.

The New York Times report is a “game changer” that shows the need for witness testimony in the president’s impeachment trial, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday.

The Meanie cites Greg Sargent’s take in the Washington Post.

What makes all this new information really damning, however, is that many of these officials who were directly involved with Trump’s freezing of aid are the same ones Trump blocked from appearing before the House impeachment inquiry.

If Republicans bear the brunt of media pressure to explain why they don’t want to hear from witnesses, that risks highlighting their true rationale: They adamantly fear new revelations precisely because they know Trump is guilty — and that this corrupt scheme is almost certainly much worse than we can currently surmise.